Photo: Aisling McCoy
Do you have a favourite art work of all time?
There is not one single art-work I can cite as definitive favourite. I spend a large proportion of my time looking at artworks and reading around work, I consider it part of the job. Therefore my attention is often focused on an artist or set of works that is most relevant to my own current output. These can become temporary ‘favourites’.
That said there are a couple of artists and works that I return to again and again.
Firstly, I hold a deep admiration for the work of Francis Alÿs. I find it hard to separate out just one piece from his whole practice. I love the multiplicity of mediums he brings to use. Works fold over each other over time, with the same pieces or notes from the same works reappearing in other forms. I find his work beautiful and poetic and politic without straying into the polemical. There is a consistent sensitivity to the nuance of material in balance with the content. I could point for example to his ‘Votive Series’ which exist as standalone paintings in the style of Mexican ex vota or retablo offerings but also figuratively and narratively describe performance pieces which Alÿs reprises again and again.
Literature and engagement with the written word also forms an important part of my practice which bring me to the T.C. Boyle short-story Chixalub from his Stories II collection. It is a story that layers the telling of a catastrophic cosmic event with the near miss of fatality within a small family unit (the loss lands elsewhere, with the parents within the story experiencing the devastation but being given reprieve from the final brink). Within this layering there is clearly also the collaging of two differing time scales — one that unfolds over millennia and one that takes place over the few late night hours. I was completely blown away by this work when I first came across it – I was moved, and shocked and really, really consumed by the paralleling of the near personal with the cosmic.
If I think of what attracts me to these two very different artists and their works, it is material virtuosity with an emphasis on content, in the service of an emotional punch.
What is your daily routine as an artist?
My daily routine depends on where in the arc of a work I am at a particular time. An exhibition or installation period is vastly different to a period of studio or research development. My one rule is go to work every day that I can. At present I am working at Fire Station Artist Studios and next year I move on to the RHA for a few months. My preference, when possible, is to work in professional studio spaces alongside other artists and to benefit from the infrastructure, resources peer community and expertise of those who run those spaces.
Work activities vary from reading, to writing up work, site visits, going to exhibitions, visiting archives, libraries, trawling online info to sitting with the sketch book to material experiments and making in sculpture or editing workshops. At the moment I am under commission from National Museum of Ireland, Museum of Country Life to create a public art work for the Museum grounds, and for this I commute from Dublin to Mayo, sometimes spending time in the Museum collections. A large part of my time is spent in consultation with other makers and artists in other disciplines. Over the past year I have collaborated with music composer David Coonan, producing a new soundscape titled Furtive Tears Salomé’s Lament which shown at the Hugh Lane Gallery in 2018.
Probably the most consistent activity which I engage with daily is drawing. It is by nature a careful and mindful activity and drawing out ideas in sketch-books keeps me grounded when other elements of my practice may be shifting or changing.
What would you say is the biggest challenge as an artist?
The biggest challenge facing me is that of how to stay sustainable and how to maintain a practice in which I can grow. As an artist I am constantly having to re-invent, re-order and reimagine my time and resources in order to realise my goals. Luckily, I also enjoy teaching and working with students. Like any artist it’s a juggle to harmonise studio work, with public engagement work. To remain sensitive to the qualities within the work, to continue to be ambitious, to keep joyful about my practice is important.
Who has been of great influence to you in your field?
The teachers and mentors who first introduced me to creativity, who planted idea in me that I could be an artist, remain important to me. I’m thinking in particular of a secondary schoolteacher Mairead O’Byrne who made time in the curriculum for art-making and discussion and who brought visiting artists to schools. These early encouragements were significant and the whole concept that people could live in the world as an artist came as surprise.
I have since then been lucky to be part of artist communities at Fire Station, Temple Bar Studios, HIAP Helsinki and Centre Culturel Paris amongst others . Without a community of peers, this work would be a lot more difficult and a lot less joyful.
I learn most by looking at other work.
What is the best piece of advice you would give an emerging artist?
Centre yourself on the love of what you do. This will sustain you through the difficult and the lean times.
What has the support from the Arts Council meant to your practice?
ACI support has allowed me access to the resources, time and infrastructure I need to expand my practice both within Ireland and abroad. In particular it has allowed me to take time out from teaching and to travel abroad to establish professional links and to access opportunities. Using the financial support I was for example able to spend time in archives in Frankfurt and London.
It has also given me time to cultivate long-term professional relationships with makers in other disciplines, greatly enriching the collaborative element of my practice. Most notably I have had the opportunity to work with composer David Coonan and to reprise a working relationship with composer/sound designer Philip Stewart.
Tell us about what you did?
Most recently, for my 2018/19 show at the Hugh Lane Gallery titled Furtive Tears it allowed me to plan from 12 to 18 months out, undertaking research, purchasing the best quality materials, involving other people in the process, spending sufficient time on production and installation.
Travel and training funding made practicable a short residency in Belgium. This led to an exhibition at V2Vingt, Brussels and the beginning of other possibilities.
What are you doing next? Would you be seeking funding in the future?
Currently I am under commission from the National Museum, the Museum of Country Life in Mayo to create a piece titled Imram Pavilion which will launch at September 2019. It is an outdoor piece that uses elements of the Museum Collection as design source for the work — namely their wonderful vernacular boat and vernacular architecture collection.
Over the next year I will continue to work on a project Models & Monuments/Furtive Tears and will be working towards solo exhibitions at Wilhelm Hack Museum, Germany and CCI, Paris.
Into the future I hope to be supported again by ACI. The possibility of support is crucial, and makes a vital difference in an artists practice.